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How to watch 2017’s Perseid meteors

Tonight – August 10, 2017 – it’s time to start watching the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks this weekend. Unfortunately, the waning gibbous moon is in the way during the predawn hours, when the meteors are normally flying most abundantly! But Perseid meteors tend to be bright. The brighter ones may well overcome the moonlit glare. Which dates are best? We anticipate on the mornings of August 12 and 13, but try tomorrow morning (August 11), too. The tips below can help you enjoy.

By the way, there’s a rumor going around that 2017’s Perseid meteor shower will be the best in 96 years. It’s not true.

It’s possible to see and photograph bright meteors in moonlight. EarthSky friend Eliot Herman caught the image at the top of this post – a bright meteor, not associated with the Perseid shower – in early July. He wrote on his Flickr page: “Even next to the moon, this is a bright meteor. Brightest meteor captured this location so far in 2017.”

1. Try observing in the evening hours, on the nights of August 10, 11 or 12. After full moon on August 7, the moon will be rising later each night. Watch as late at night as you can, but before moonrise. Click here for a custom sunrise/sunset calendar – click box for moonrise/moonset times. You won’t see as many meteors during the evening hours, but you still might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. If you see one, you’ll have a new appreciation for evening meteor-watching.

2. Or … watch in moonlight between midnight and dawn. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Perseids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon. After the radiant rises, more meteors are flying … unfortunately, in 2017, in the light of the moon.

3. Sprawl out in a moon shadow. When the moon is up around the shower’s peak dates, it’ll be casting looooong shadows in the sky around late night and early morning. Find a moon shadow somewhere that still provides you with a wide expanse of sky for meteor-viewing. A plateau area with high-standing mountains to block out the moon would work just fine. If you can’t do that, find a hedgerow of trees bordering a wide open field somewhere (though obtain permission, if it’s private land). Or simply sit in the shadow of a barn or other building. Ensconced within a moon shadow, and far from the glow of city lights, the night all of a sudden darkens while the meteors brighten.

4. Avoid city lights. This should go without saying, but just a reminder. A wide open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.

5. Watch with friend or friends, and try facing in different directions so that if someone sees a meteor, that person can call out – “meteor!” – to the rest.

6. Notice the speed and colors, if any, of the meteors. The Perseids are known to be colorful, although the moonlight will drown out their color in 2017. But it won’t affect their speed! The Perseids are swift-moving, entering Earth’s atmosphere at about 35 miles per second (60 km per second).

7. Watch for meteor trains. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. A good percentage of Perseids are known to leave persistent trains. They linger for a moment or two after the meteor has gone. Again, hard to see in the moonlight, but watch for them!

8. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere … watch! At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky. Therefore, the number of Perseid meteors seen from this part of the world isn’t as great as at more northerly latitudes. But if you’re game, look northward in the wee hours before dawn on August 11, 12 and 13, and you might still see a decent display of Perseids.

9. At the end of the Perseid shower, look for Venus. As dawn breaks, a bright planet will be ascending in the east before dawn. That’ll be Venus, third-brightest object in Earth’s sky after the sun and moon.

10. Embrace the moon. We hear people bubble with excitement about seeing meteors in all sorts of conditions – moon or no moon – city lights or no city lights. The Perseids, in particular, tend to have a lot of fireballs. And so, around the nights of the shower, try taking your lawn chair or blanket to a wide open location and bask in the moon’s bright light. You’ll see an occasional fireball streak by. It’ll be beautiful!

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Radiant point of the Perseid meteor shower is in constellation Perseus, near the M-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. Northeast around midnight. Overhead-ish by dawn! Photo by our friend Martin Marthadinata in Indonesia.

Bottom line: With the moon intruding on the predawn hours, the year 2017 is not as favorable as it could be for watching the annual Perseid meteor shower. Tips for watching the shower here.

Best Perseid meteor shower in 96 years? Nope

When is the next meteor shower? Click here for EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2017

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Bruce McClure